TULSA, Okla. — On paper, Memphis ranks 104th out of 130 FBS schools in rushing defense, but the No. 22 Tigers proved last week they can stifle a powerful running attack.
Following their 56-26 win over Tulane, the Tigers (7-1, 4-1 American, No. 23 CFP) will need to have similar success when they face Tulsa on the road Friday night.
The Green Wave entered that game ranked 12th in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 266.0 yards. Memphis limited them to just 122 yards on 52 carries, an average of just 2.3 per carry.
Tulsa (2-7, 1-4) has the 12th-ranked running attack, at 260.2 yards per game, and boasts the nation’s fifth-best rusher, D’Angelo Brewer, who has 980 yards and eight touchdowns.
“They probably have the best offensive line in our league, it’s a good group,” Memphis coach Mike Norvell said. “They’ve got explosive backs. They can run the football. This is a good football team. It’s going to take a great effort from us, especially going on the road.”
The Golden Hurricane will be without freshman backup running back Shamari Brooks, who totaled 687 yards and 10 touchdowns before breaking his collarbone last week in a 38-34 loss to SMU. Brewer, who missed Tulsa’s previous game with an injury, isn’t 100 percent. But he still managed 156 yards and one touchdown on 33 rushes last week.
“It’s unfortunate, Shamari’s done a great job,” said Golden Hurricane coach Philip Montgomery. “He’s a tough kid, he’s a battler. I hate that this happened. D’Angelo is getting closer to being healthy, he wasn’t quite healthy last week but was able to carry the load. You got a few others that we can throw in there. We’ll keep moving some parts around, keep playing with the puzzle and see if we can put it all together.”
Five things to watch on Friday night:
1. AVERY GOOD: Memphis senior linebacker Genard Avery is the American’s reigning Defensive Player of the Week after a dominating performance against Tulane in which he moved over to play defensive end and erupted for 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. “Genard has been extremely unselfish throughout this year, and he’s played at such a high level,” Norvell said. “His versatility allows for a lot of different things. We can play him on the edge, we can play him as a linebacker, in coverage, blitzing the quarterback – he can really do it all.”
2. SO CLOSE: Tulsa’s loss to SMU last week was the second in a row, following a 20-14 defeat to UConn on Oct. 21, in which they had a chance to win on their final possession of the game. The Golden Hurricane also lost back-to-back contests earlier in the year on last-second field goals, 54-51 at Toledo on Sept. 16 and 16-13 at home against New Mexico on Sept. 23. The SMU game was also the third one this year that Tulsa lost in which they held a 14-point lead at some point.
3. GOING HOME: This will be Norvell’s first trip back to Tulsa since he served as an assistant coach for the Golden Hurricane under Todd Graham from 2007-10. “I’m grateful for every single day I had there,” Norvell said of Tulsa. “That’s really where I started to develop and grow as a young coach. The players, the people there were phenomenal. There’s always a special place in our hearts for the time that we spent there.”
4. SKIPPER IN CHARGE: After serving as the backup to Chad President for the first five games this year, freshman Luke Skipper took over as Tulsa’s quarterback midway through a 62-28 loss to Tulane on Oct. 7 and has played well. While President is more of a running threat, Skipper has added the dimension of the deep ball to the Golden Hurricane offense, completing six passes of more than 50 yards in the last four games. Overall, he has completed 55.3 percent of his passes for 865 yards and three touchdowns, along with three interceptions.
5. CUT TO THE QUICK: Memphis has used a quick-strike offense this season, averaging just under two minutes per scoring drive. The Tigers have generated 13 touchdown drives of less than a minute and 24 under two minutes, averaging 5.9 plays and 64.3 yards per scoring drive.